Mikel Landa was mobbed in the opening to the Stade Velodrome in Marseille after finishing his time trial on the penultimate day of the Tour de France. The Team Sky rider had just produced the best time trial of his career, but the gaggle of mainly Spanish journalists would have to be patient as he stared up at the big screen and waited for Romain Bardet to cross the line.
It seemed out of the question at the start of the day, but suddenly the podium was in play and, while Froome went about securing the overall title with a minimum of fuss, Landa had lent the Tour a degree of suspense it was otherwise lacking on its final day.
Landa had started the day fourth overall, 67 seconds down on Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale-Drapac) in third place and 73 on Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) in second. As Bardet struggled towards the finish, a time of 30:19 would have handed Landa the final podium spot, but the Frenchman stopped it on just over 30:18.
"It's a shame. After so many kilometres, so many mountains … you don't go chasing that one extra second. I can think of many places where I could have got that second," Landa said.
"Maybe it's my lack of experience. One second, and it's goodbye to the podium."
As his teammate Froome crossed the line to seal his fourth victory, Landa was asked if he was happy.
"Yes, I'm happy, but not overjoyed," he said. When asked if he felt any anger about the missing second: "Mucho, mucho."
Landa joked that he would have to attack on the Champs Élysées, the final stage in Paris traditionally being a procession leading up to a sprint finish, where no changes are made to the overall standings.
With French media becoming genuinely concerned that their man Bardet might lose his spot on the podium, Froome was even asked about it in his winner's press conference in Marseille.
"Obviously I haven't seen rest of the team yet but I'd be extremely doubtful that's on our agenda," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, the battle for GC is over now and tomorrow is a day for the sprinters."
Landa's first Tour de France will be remembered for the way he injected some much-needed intrigue into the race, rising up the general classification on two crazy days in the Pyrenees.
There was talk of him being a genuine threat for the overall victory – a threat, even, to his team leader, Froome. In the end, Froome, after his Peyragudes wobble, was back in yellow earlier than expected and Landa's status as a second tactical card went out of the window – reduced once more to a pure domestique role.
He did attack on the Col d'Izoard, but it was short-lived as Froome soon rolled the dice behind. Had he not, Landa may well have found that extra second.
"I hope to have taken a step forward in gaining the confidence to be the top dog in a Grand Tour," said Landa. "I want the opportunity to come back to the Tour to play my own card."
It is no secret that Landa is on his way out of Sky, and, while nothing can be confirmed until August, that didn't stop the question being asked. Where is he going next?
"To a team that wants me as its leader."
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